Oct. 29, 2021
By Jane Ewing, Senior Vice President, Sustainability, Walmart
Walmart continues to reinvent the retail experience as we move toward a more sustainable future. At the heart of these efforts is something that seems simple: the plastic bag.
Our journey to go Beyond the Bag began early last year, when we joined Closed Loop Partners’ Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag, collaborating with CVS Health, Target and other major retailers to lead industry-wide change around viable alternatives to the traditional plastic shopping bag.
The good news is we’ve made progress. In fact, we’ve found opportunity for true change at the intersection of new technology and sustainability. As our stores work to test the innovative winning solutions of the Beyond the Bag Innovation Challenge, we’re seeing firsthand that the future isn’t just bright for alternatives — it’s more sustainable, and it’s on the immediate horizon.
Let’s take a closer look at how we’re lessening our impact on the planet, while keeping convenience at the forefront for our customers. To start our tour of the future, let’s head out west.
Californians Test What Lies Beyond the Bag
In California, customers and associates are testing new solutions in an attempt to answer the age-old question: What’s next?
At Store 2280 in Mountain View, California, associates think they’re onto a potential exciting solution. The store piloted a solution called GOATOTE. With GOATOTE, you use an app to “check out” reusable bags. The bags are totally free if returned to the store within 30 days. If they decide to keep their bag, customers will be charged $2.00.
Store Manager Renardo Page said the pilot was a successful one, as customers at his store were motivated by the prospect of a greener future, and the role of new technologies like GOATOTE in proctoring change.
“The way I talk about technology is this: We can be the difference,” Renardo said of Walmart. “If we play our part, we can help roll something out to the nearly 5,000 stores in our company where we can lead — we can truly innovate.”
Renardo isn’t alone in seeing the future of sustainability wrapped up with inventive new technologies and new ways of thinking.
“Looking forward, this is all about iterating,” said Anish Hazari, the principal project manager for Walmart’s Next Gen. Stores. “Of course, we want to reach that total goal of being sustainable, and you want to be successful as you do it. But what happens moving toward that success is every time you develop and prototype a new solution, you’re getting closer and closer to that overall goal — and sometimes you may not even realize it.”
Someone realizing that rather acutely is Mike De Castro, the store manager at Store 3123 in Santa Clara, California, whose store piloted a solution called Fill It Forward, a mobile app and tag that connects to the reusable bag customers already own. With each use, customers accumulate points, which convert to a dollar amount that goes back to a local organization. In this case, it’s the Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley.
Mike said the pilot caused a 31% increase in adoption of reusable bags during its run. And he and his associates learned something important.
I learned that people can actually not waste shopping bags. They can use a reusable bag, not waste plastic and give back to the community all at once.
Vermont and Maine Go Bagless
After a pilot in Vermont, our stores there have gone bagless. The state’s stores and a willing customer base have transitioned entirely to reusable bags.
Meanwhile in Maine, we launched a bagless pilot, too. Why? Because our associates and customers there, time and again, have told us they’re ready to make a change. By choosing to go bagless in Maine and Vermont, we’re learning a lot that we can share with other regions. And though these transitions come with a learning curve for customers and associates, they’ve also shown that Walmart customers have a deep desire to do the right thing by our planet, and our collective future.
We realize that reinventing the retail bag won’t be an easy or immediate process. But we’re encouraged by our progress in these markets, and by the innovative solutions entrepreneurs continue to offer. Key learnings from these efforts will inform our future bagless efforts. We’ll keep working to do our part to serve the customer while moving toward a cleaner, more sustainable future.